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General Milley’s Secret Calls to China, Miller Dismisses Involvement

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: September 29, 2021
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley testifies at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley testifies at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan. (Image: Sarahbeth Maney-Pool via Getty Images)

Christopher Miller, the former acting Secretary of Defense, dismissed claims that he had authorized Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff Gen. Mark Milley to have secret calls with his Chinese counterpart during the Trump administration. Miller led the Pentagon after the 2020 election until Joe Biden’s Presidential inauguration day.

The claim about Milley’s secret calls comes from a recently released book “Peril,” written by two The Washington Post reporters, Robert Costa and Bob Woodward. According to the book, Milley made two secret phone calls to Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army. The first call happened on Oct. 30, 2020, just before the Nov. 3 presidential election. The second call took place on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol Hill breach.

The book claims that Miller decided to contact Li in October after internal intelligence reports suggested that Chinese officials believed Washington was planning to attack them amidst military exercises being held in the South China Sea. The two authors claim that Milley assured Li that the United States will not initiate any kind of attack or advance against China in any manner.

“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay… We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you… General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,” Milley told Li according to the book.

In the second call, Milley sought to assuage Chinese fears after the Capitol breach. “We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes,” Milley said to his counterpart. Milley apparently did not reveal this conversation to Trump. Li remained rattled despite Milley’s assurances.

In an interview with Fox News, Miller said that if the book’s claims were true, it would represent a “disgraceful and unprecedented act of insubordination” by the country’s top military officer.

“Pursuit of partisan politics and individual self-interests are a violation of an officer’s sacred duty and have no place in the United States military… A lesser ranking officer accused of such behavior would immediately be relieved of duty pending a thorough and independent investigation… As secretary of defense, I did not and would not ever authorize such conduct,” Miller said.

He called for a non-partisan investigation into the accusations made in the book. Miller added that he served as Secretary of Defense under Trump due to the president’s “commitment” to service members, veterans, and families as well as his focus on ending American military involvement in overseas operations that did not have any “strategic coherence.”

According to Fox News, there were several people with Milley during his phone calls with Li. An official told the media outlet that the calls were “not secret” and that they took place over video conference. Around 15 people were present for the calls, including notetakers. The calls were conducted with the full knowledge of then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The book alleges that Miller was also present during the calls; a claim he has denied. 

One source said that the calls were made in the context of assuring adversaries that America was not planning any military attacks. Milley made up to 20 calls to Li and NATO allies following the Jan. 6 breach. White House has defended the general; press secretary Jen Psaki stated that President Joe Biden has “complete confidence” in Milley’s leadership. 

The Trump factor

The book also casts a negative light on Trump. It states that Milley believed the president had suffered a mental decline following the 2020 election. In a phone call with House Speaker Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Milley agreed with her evaluation that Trump had become unstable.

Believing that Trump might endanger relations with communist China, Milley called up the admiral overseeing the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and recommended that they postpone military exercises. Milley called senior officers to review procedures for launching nuclear codes. He insisted that even though the president alone has the power to give the launch order, he must also be involved.

Trump has labeled the claims in the book as “fake news.” In a statement, the former president said that if the claims are true, then Milley must be tried for treason since he dealt with his Chinese counterpart “behind the President’s back.” Milley even assured Beijing that he would notify them in the event of an attack.

“The good news is that the story is Fake News concocted by a weak and ineffective General together with two authors who I refused to give an interview to because they write fiction, not fact,” Trump said.

The former president stated that he has “never even thought” of attacking China. He called the people who “fabricated the story” as “sick and demented.” He highlighted the fact that he is the “only president in decades” who did not push America into a war. Trump also criticized Milley for what happened in Afghanistan. Trump labeled Milley a “failed leader” who engineered the worst military withdrawal in American history.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio wrote a letter to President Joe Biden on Sept. 14, asking him to “fire Milley now.” Retired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman has called for Milley’s resignation if the accusations made in the book are true. 

“He usurped civilian authority, broke Chain of Command, and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military. It’s an extremely dangerous precedent. You can’t simply walk away from that,” Vindman tweeted.